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There’s a Word for That?

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You can’t stop thinking about that one person. Every song you hear reminds you of them, and your mind replays every encounter you’ve had. When you do come face-to-face with them, your mind races as you desperately search for signs of requited adoration.

You might be in love, but it could also be limerence.

Limerence (English)

Pronounced: (l1m1rens)

The state of being romantically infatuated or obsessed with another person; typically experienced involuntarily and characterized by a strong desire for reciprocation of one’s feelings but not primarily for a sexual relationship.

The concept of limerence was created by psychologist Dorothy Tennov to describe the involuntary emotional state where one feels an intense romantic desire for another person. Tennov coined the term after interviewing over 500 people in an effort to qualify “passionate love” for her 1979 book Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love.

How does limerence differ from love? In the early stages of a relationship, it’s hard to tell. When someone first falls in love, they can experience many of the feelings described as symptoms of limerence. But, if instead of moving on to the next phase of the relationship, the person remains obsessed with his or her object of desire, it may be limerence they’re feeling. This distinction is made more challenging by the fact that grand gestures of “romance” depicted in movies and literature often normalize limerence.

In his Huffington Post article “Limerence and the Biochemical Roots of Love Addiction,” David Sack, M.D., writes, “ Limerence is smothering and unsatisfying, and cares little about the other person’s well-being. Securing the other person’s affection takes precedence over earning their respect, commitment, physical intimacy or even their love.”

Limerence can be observed on a biochemical level. While many of us experience that spike of dopamine and oxytocin for the first six to 24 months after starting a new relationship, for a person with limerence, those chemical levels don’t simmer down as the relationship grows. According to Kristine Keller, M.A., in her Psychology Today article, “Limerence: When Is It More than Heartbreak?” “[T]hose who suffer from Limerence are permanently trapped in this stage of euphoria, their cognitions and behaviors turning obsessive and compulsive.”

So are you in love, or just suffering from limerence? The answer may be that only time will tell.